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The cultural contadictions of Ratzinger/Benedict

MOJ’s Rick Garnett calls our attention to this big NYT Mag article on Pope Benedict XVI. Some of it rehearses what even relatively casual observers of European Christianity know. And this MOJ poster doesn’t think the author has dug all that deeply.

But his big point seems to be that the Pope’s attempt to revive Christendom in Europe is doomed to founder on his all-too-rigid protection and enforcement of hierarchy.

What do Catholic NLT readers think of this? I know the problem--I doubt that any of my "Catholic" relatives in Europe go to church--but I suspect that my version of his "solution"--which sounds an awful lot like evangelicalism (more autonomy for parachurch organizations and a loosening somewhat of doctrine, to name a couple of things)--is to some degree a product of my current religious orientation.

Stated another way, the author contends, albeit not as forcefully and coherently as I’d like, that the Roman Catholic Church as it’s currently constituted can’t adequately address the spiritual longings that Europeans feel. (I’d of course broaden that to "people feel.") The Pope may have properly diagnosed the problem but he’s too wed to the institution and its traditions to offer a compelling solution.

To be clear: I’m impressed by traditions and institutions, and think that the anti-traditional and anti-institutional elements of contemporary American evangelicalism might help fill the sanctuaries on Sunday mornings, but also that they don’t offer the kind of spiritual and theological nourishment and formation that a soul needs. From my Reformed perspective, I’m closer to Benedict XVI than to the NYT on this.

Update: Responding to this inelegantly worded and somewhat opaque post, SDP’s Jon Schaff begs to differ with what he thinks I meant. In the post I was trying, without much success, to state what I took to be the author’s view, though I muddied the waters by translating his position into the categories of mushy contemporary evangelicalism, with which I try to have as little truck as possible. So let me be clearer: the NYT Mag author’s (not my) position is something like this: the Pope is too "old-fashioned" and wed to his church’s hierarchy to pull off what he’s trying to pull off; the real vitality in the European Catholic church lies in those organizations that most closely resemble their doctrinally and liturgically flexible evangelical American counterparts. My own position is that I hope (and pray) that the missionaries my denomination supports in Europe are successful, and that they cultivate a doctrinally and liturgically rich version of Presbyterianism among some portion of the vast numbers of unchurched on the spiritually dark continent. There’s plenty of good work for all serious people to do.

Discussions - 7 Comments

I found his recent comments on the Iraq War really, really off-putting. At least John Paul II, having grown up under communism, understood the need to fight for freedom and against totalitarian ideologies. This new guy seems like a typical clueless Euro, at least when it comes to foreign policy.

Interesting quote;

The interesting fact is that people responding to questions about religion lie in both directions,” says the Spanish sociologist José Casanova, who is chairman of the sociology department at the New School for Social Research in New York and an authority on religion in Europe and the United States. “In America, people exaggerate how religious they are, and in Europe, it’s the other way around. That has to do with the situation of religion in both places. Americans think religion is a good thing and tend to feel guilty that they aren’t religious enough. In Europe, they think being religious is bad, and they actually feel guilty about being too religious.”

The FT essay "Europe and Its Discontents"

Not what a "typical clueless Euro" re "foreign policy" would write.

Gee, page after page...thanks for the history lesson. As for his final analysis, that secularism has ruined Europe, maybe. "Secularism" covers a lot of territory. I suspect that what modernization has done is to make all of us less (directly) dependent on one another, and this has loosened the bonds of our societies. Religion may play a role, but I’m not convinced that its tepidness is the principal culprit.

And his sad song about violence in the world, and "nothing positive" happening in Iraq, just isn’t helpful. For good or ill, this is a crusade, so these religious leaders need to help us win. Pouring water on the home-fires doesn’t do much to achieve the goal.


I have responded over at South Dakota Politics. I am interested in your thoughts.


JDSHere is my response.

I give the author points for trying to be fair, but his rolodex is too one-sided. How do his sources account for the huge crowds (2-3x what JP II got) for Benedict’s weekly audiences if he doesn’t appeal? He (the author)confuses orthodoxy with rigidity. I think this gives a more accurate impression of the Pope’s impact, though limited to the Italian context. See esp. the 4th graf from the bottom.

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